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Showing posts from 2018

Lessons from the art tour 3

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I'm still digesting all that I saw in my museum going in London and Paris.  One lesson that was driven home to me was how much the camera has complicated the painting process, and made us question the way we actually see.  
The flags in the Monet above are clearly fluttering, and just as clearly, he didn't use a photo reference to paint them.  He took no pains to connect the rough, broken stripes on the foreground flag, and, instead, dashed them onto a sienna-toned ground with all the vigour of the brisk wind that they describe.  


Monet's flags show how we actually see motion.  When we look at a moving object, person, or animal, we can't stop their motion and analyze what each component is doing during any given millisecond.  Looking at a fluttering flag, we don't see stripes so much as flickering colours and tones flashing against the sky.  
A camera view, however, freezes movement and shows us exactly what's happening to those stripes.  We can see each fold …

Black, white, and grey

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The seemingly simplest colours are the trickiest to paint.  Black, white, and grey may seem straightforward but, if their temperature is wrong, they refuse to integrate into a painting. You can buy any number of blacks, whites, and greys, but I find they all need modification to fit into a painting. 

This still life has the full tonal range from light to dark, including a very large expanse of white cloth.  I use titanium white by M. Graham which is, despite it's name, a mixed white of titanium and zinc (PW 6 and PW 4 on the label). 

Most titanium whites in art stores are actually mixtures, possibly because the opacity and coldness of pure titanium is so hard to work with, or because it's expensive.  Gamblin's titanium is an exception: it's just PW6 - titanium, and is incredibly bright and cold.

White should never be used straight from the tube.  It can be - there are no paint police - but I wouldn't do it; it's bland, cold, and uninteresting.  I prefer to sacr…

Blog glitch regarding floral workshop in Lumby

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Imagine my surprise this morning when I got an announcement telling me that I was teaching a floral workshop in Lumby, BC - again.

I did this workshop more than a year ago, and Blogger appears to have randomly plucked it from the archives and announced it just for a giggle.

Technology is, ultimately, my good friend.  It allows me to communicate with artists from around the world, to see work in museums at such high res that I can examine brushstrokes, and to do video critiques in which another artist and I see each other's faces and talk about their work.  All wonderful things.

Sometimes, though, entire days are lost to glitches and gremlins like this one - though I have to say, this is a really new one for me!

In the meantime, please check the dates on any blog posts that comes to your inbox to make sure they're sensible.

**I will be announcing 2 real and upcoming workshops soon.  Both will be in held in Calgary in the spring of 2019.  Stay tuned!

Happy painting!

Lessons from the art tour 2

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This famous Degas painting reminded me that the revered artists in the museums that I visited were interesting, opinionated, and witty people.  Clearly pimping for the woman beside the building, this rat-faced man is catching the ear of some gentlemen in a line up.

What I loved was the economy of one of the men's hands.  They're a pink scribble, with the most important feature crisply defined: the wedding band.

I also had a laugh when I realized that the black-shod foot visible at the bottom of the pimp's coat was not connected to any figure, but was, instead, a sly joke protruding from the pimp's pants. 

As I stood in the grand museum, looking at what was essentially a naughty joke and a keenly-observed piece of social commentary, Degas felt very human and close.  I've read that he was prickly, but I think I'd have liked him.

Happy painting!

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Lessons from the art tour

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I often hear artists worrying about the fact that their work is constantly changing.  They wonder when they'll be done with the endless stylistic renovation and experimentation, and emerge into their finished, final style.  I believe that my final, mature style will be the one that's happening in the studio on the day that I die.  Until then, change is my constant; it keeps me from growing bored and feeling like I'm working in a factory that produces paintings.

My recent trip to London and Paris showed me that I'm not alone.  I saw plenty of mature, famous works by big names like Monet, Morisot, and Degas, but I also saw anomalies: paintings that test drove styles, compositions, and ideas to see if they were worth pursuing.

The Musée D'Orsay had a great collection of Vuillards on display, and his ceaseless experimentation was plain to see on the walls.  Art books lean towards defining him as a painter of highly-patterned interiors.  Those are the pieces that are m…

The power of critiques

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Conch Shell 16 x 12
This week I connected separately with two artists to talk about their art for a solid hour.  They were the first of the online critiques that artists have booked with me, and the process worked well thanks to the wonders of technology.

The first crit was done over the phone at the artist's request.  From 10 images that I'd received, I altered 5 in Procreate, and we discussed the altered images one by one, as well as discussing the body of work as a whole.

It's powerful to be able to show an artist ways to strengthen her work rather than rely on inadequate, vague words.  Instead of telling her to simplify or soften an area, I can actually show her what it would look like if she did so, without ever touching the actual painting. 

The second critique was face-to-face thanks to the miracle of video chatting.  I use Jitsi, an open-source, video conferencing service that doesn't track conversations, advertise to participants, or come with those annoying…

Fall can be a time for growth!

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I thought I'd do a round up of news and events for readers who don't yet subscribe to my email news.
So here's what's going on in my autumn:



I'm taking some time off of teaching weekly classes this year to focus on my studio and to do some travelling.   The latter includes 2 weeks in London and Paris during which I intend to see as much art as humanly possible!  If the Eiffel Tower happens to be in my line of sight as I walk to a museum or gallery, that's a bonus.

In the meantime, I'm offering private in-person and online instructional critiques: 

I've found that there's an uncomfortable, often discouraging time in artists' lives between learning how to paint, and finding their personal style and genre - their artistic path. Artists can stall on this plateau for a long time, feeling that they're not progressing, but knowing that the answer is not a long-term class. I can help you out of this stalled state.

I'm now offering private criti…

Using technology to solve a painting - and a blog glitch

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**Yes: a Blogger blog again.  My explanation is at the end.

Paint on, paint off is often how my work proceeds. I make a choice, smack on the paint with great conviction, and then doubt or loathe the result.  Then I scrape it off, think for a long time, and try it again. "Peonies Full Blown" involved a lot less manual labour than usual because I tried out my changes on my Ipad in Procreate.  Like an intuitive Photoshop, Procreate allows all sorts of manipulations: drawing, painting, moving elements around... it might make dinner but I'm still learning it.
A couple of weeks ago, I impulsively cut a bunch of peonies at the height of perfection, stapled some linen to a board, and dashed to get the image painted before the flowers lost their charms.  It was speed painting, and I blame that for my lack of forethought about what would surround the blooms.  
I ended up with this, and then I got stuck:
But this time, instead of trying out ideas on the painting, I took a picture of…

New website and moving the blog!

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I prefer my laptop to my phone, and never look at art on the tiny screen, which turns out to have been a mistake - one that I've been making for years. 

Last week I looked at my website on a phone and gagged.  It looked awful: creaky, manual scroll, cropped titles, absent information: all stuff that didn't show on the laptop screen for which it was clearly optimized.  So the past few days have seen me stuck at the kitchen table, populating a new FASO website.  Painstaking, boring work, but worth it.   I logged 11 live chats with the online help person over the course of 1 day and am sure they groaned aloud in the office when they saw my name pop up AGAIN.  But they were unfailingly helpful, which certainly made my day easier.

I'm taking advantage of the fact that they have an integrated blog page to move from Blogger, as well.  Isn't it a good thing to put all your eggs in one basket?  Actually, I think my blog will have a much greater reach on FASO and that's a n…

Explorations using still life

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It ain't over till it's over. 

This still life captured my interest: the lighting, the composition, and the objects.  Every day when I walked into the studio and saw it, I had the urge to paint it again.  So I did - 4 times. I figure it's not excessive if I'm still having fun.  When the thought another painting of bread makes me want to lie down with a cool cloth on my face, then it's excessive.

The first one was painted on fairly smooth linen which, in my experience, doesn't take a lot of paint before feeling and looking a bit heavy and tired.  So I minimized the number of layers, working on colour and composition more than on building the texture of the paint. 


The next 3 were painted on birch panels which can take as much paint as I want to add.  Each painting explored a different aspect of the subject and the medium.  I also changed out the bowl for something with some chroma.

#2 was started on a wet wash of ivory black mixed with 50/50 linseed and mineral…

No such thing as overworking

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Rose Frantzen once said in an interview that a painting is like the alphabet, from A to Z.  But if you always stop at D, out of the fear of overworking it, you'll miss out on the potentially great things that might happen at L.  This resonated.
"Summer Walk" started as a fresh, rough statement with a nice mood and, thanks to a lot of preliminary Photoshop and watercolour studies, good colour.  It could have been left largely as it was, and it had just enough nice moments for me to have reached the tweaking stage - I was using smaller brushes, and not making big changes to shapes - but it felt unsatisfying.  There's a richness and depth that comes from working a surface several times that was absent in this alla prima piece.  
So I scraped it down, and let it dry.  Scraping ensured that I blurred the surface, and destroyed those nice moments that were holding the piece back.  
When it was dry, I went back with big brushes, restating the thing that was important to me …

1-Day Composition Workshop, Calgary

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Dynamic Compositions a 1-Day Workshop Sept. 8, 2018 Leighton Art Centre Calgary, AB
No amount of fancy brushwork can save a weak composition, but what exactly is a strong composition?  We've all read about the rule of thirds, the Golden Ratio, focal points and leading the eye. Yet, many of us struggle to put it all together, and make a compelling series of shapes and angles that lead the viewer happily through the painting, from one discovery to the next, with total control.  Many artists don't even know that's possible.

I'll be teaching a 1-day composition workshop on September 8 which will show you just how much control you have over the whole picture plane, and your viewer's experience of your work.

This workshop will put you firmly in charge of your painting from the very first mark; helping you to organize complex scenes into clear, coherent, and powerful paintings.

Working from your own photos, you'll learn how to develop a concept and then simplify, organize…

Sanding a painting

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This painting sat on the shelf for quite a while.  I knew it wasn't right, but it wasn't totally wrong either - something that would allow the easy choice of a scrape off or a frisbee toss into the trash.  So I sanded and scraped it down to a thinner paint film and worked it again.  
Those of you who have taken workshops with me know my thoughts on sanding pigments: not a smart idea.  Stupid, actually. And I still think that.  Airborne pigments are terribly toxic (especially cadmiums - but no pigments should be inhaled), so let me just tell you that I did take precautions.  First, I wet the whole painting with odourless mineral spirits, and then, wearing nitrile gloves, I sanded the surface with wet-dry sandpaper.  I didn't go for fine grit paper - which would give fine particles - allowing the scratches of a coarse paper to become part of the work's surface interest.   Wet sanding created a dark, messy sludge on the painting's surface which had to be wiped off of…